We also saw two others fighting / playing together and we stopped for a long time to watch--even the tour leader seemed riveted -apparently pandas usually don’t do much besides eat and sleep, so it was very exciting. They were on top of a wooden structure and kept knocking each other off. We also saw red pandas, although they look more like raccoons with a big bushy tail. Both red pandas and giant pandas have thumbs to help them grasp the bamboo, which made their paws more monkey like. And while they are both called “pandas”, they are not in the same animal family.
We also saw a couple of baby pandas. When they are born they weigh between 3 and 5 ounces and are about the size of a stick of butter! The ones we saw were in their little incubators and around a month old- they already had their black and white panda markings. We weren't allowed to take photos of them, so the photos you see are photos of photos, but that was how they looked! We also saw a video of a mama panda giving birth and after the cub was born, she looked down and saw the little pink hairless thing squirming and she jumped back like she was scared of it, and then started batting it around! The caretaker had to sneak into the cage and grab the baby. No wonder they are endangered!!
Chengdu also has a giant Mao statue,
which was fairly near to our hostel so we wandered out to see it. While Jeff was taking some of his artistic photos, a group of 5 or 6 teenage girls motioned to me that they wanted to take my picture. So, giggling all the while, they huddled around me and took their pictures. Jeff was oblivious until I called him, then he says, “hey, what about me?” and they all (still giggling!) starting taking their picture with him. Our own set of groupies!! It was hilarious.
We took a day trip about 75 miles from Chengdu to Le Shan to see the Giant Buddha.
75 miles doesn’t seem that far, but in China using public transportation and just getting anywhere takes 3 times longer than you would expect! We started off having to get the public bus from the hostel to the main bus station. The buses were too full, so we finally decided to take a taxi to the station. Once there, we showed our little piece of paper that had the Chinese characters for “Le Shan Buddha”. We bought our tickets without incident, and made the 2 hour trip to Le shan. Once in Le Shan, we took the public bus to the giant Buddha, and that took another 45 minutes! The giant Buddha is a Unesco World Heritage site, and is the largest stone carved Buddha in the world. It was built during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). According to Wikipedia, “construction was started in 713, led by a Chinese monk named Haithong. He hoped that the Buddha would calm the turbulent waters that plagued the shipping vessels travelling down the river. When funding for the project was threatened, he is said to have gouged out his own eyes to show his piety and sincerity. After his death, however, the construction was stuck due to insufficient funding. About 70 years later, a governor decided to sponsor the project and the construction was completed by Haitong's disciples in 803. Apparently the massive construction resulted in so much stone being removed from the cliff face and deposited into the river below that the currents were indeed altered by the statue, making the waters safe for passing ships.” The massive Buddha is 233 feet tall (73 meters). The scale is hard to imagine!! There was also a Buddha Park, similar to the one we saw in Sukothai, but all in caves. Here were replicas of many famous buddhas found in other parts of
China. We like to see the Buddhas!!
One of the things I was most excited to see in China was the Giant Pandas at the Wolong Natural Reserve. Unfortunately this site was affected by an earthquake in 2008 and has not reopened to visitors yet. So, the next best thing was the Chengdu Research base of giant Panda Breeding. We got up bright and early to fight the traffic - it took around 1.5 hours to go less than 15 miles. Crazy! I didn’t really have time to research the place in advance, so I expected a zoo-like scenario where the poor pandas were caged up in concrete jungles. But we were pleasantly surprised- it was a forested nature reserve with bamboo (and pandas!) everywhere. I think they clip fresh bamboo and put it near the edges of the areas so the tourists can see them, but otherwise it felt very peaceful and a nice place to be a panda! The pandas were happily munching on bamboo- one had practically buried himself in it so he could just sit there all day without moving!